“Honey, please never go to America! I don’t want those children to kill you, too!”
That was my Iraqi friend quoting his wife a few months ago over tea. While channel surfing one evening, she had the misfortune of landing on the 1984 horror flick, Children of the Corn, and was thereafter convinced that rural Middle America was utterly unsafe.
I laughed it off, set my tea down, and assured my friend that movies aren’t reality, but then my friend said something insightful: “Last night, that movie was reality to her.”
Upon reflection, I realized that this might sum up one of the most important things I’ve learned over the past few years of living and working in Iraq: experiences—be they positive or negative—shape perceptions in a big way. They become reality.
I know, I know. That isn’t earth-shattering news, but sometimes I think we forget that our God can change overwhelmingly negative, car-bomb-induced perceptions—He can even reverse them!
Even the nastiest stuff you think of when you hear the word “Iraq:” Suicide bombs; rogue soldiers; chemical warfare; chronic violence. The cynicism and negativity fostered by these things can be healed because God is capable, and God is in the business of changing hearts and minds.
In fact, the more negative a person’s experience, I believe, the more positive an experience often needs to be to redeem the perception. Our God is in the business of doing BIG things—and this is good news for all of us! The deep-rooted fear of the unknown—or, more often, the partially known—is poisonous. But GOD’s love for people serves as the antidote, and He calls us to share it.
And that’s why my friends and I form a group called Preemptive Love Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to providing Iraqi children with lifesaving heart surgeries, where we witness God doing big things every day.
Because sometimes it takes something as big and dramatic as mending a child’s dying heart to show an Iraqi family that you aren’t their enemy. We call this mind-changing work preemptive love—a love that jumps in headlong to serve another with the hope of offering a new, more hopeful reality.
We are so looking forward to connecting with you at Allume in a few months and hearing your stories of preemptive love. In the meantime, we’d love to connect our worlds by reading your comments below.
So what about you? How could/do you, in your community, partner with God in changing perceptions through preemptive love?
Matt Willingham lives and works in Iraq as the Communication Director for Preemptive Love Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating the backlog of children in Iraq waiting for a lifesaving heart surgery. Connect with him on Twitter: @mehtin